China Attacks CNN for Highlighting Beijing’s ‘Nationalist Sentiment’ at Olympics

China's Wei Sun competes in the horizontal bar event of the artistic gymnastics men's all-around final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo on July 28, 2021. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP) (Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)

China’s state-run Global Times on Tuesday fumed over CNN supposedly mocking Chinese nationalism and insulting its efforts against the coronavirus during Tokyo Olympic coverage.

The Global Times was driven to sputtering outrage by a very brief CNN news update titled “The First Day of the 2020 Olympics Begins with Gold for China and More Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] Cases.” The article did not talk about coronavirus cases in China, but rather about how 127 Olympics-related Chinese coronavirus cases have caused “difficulties for athletes and organizers” from all participants. 

The only coronavirus-positive athlete mentioned by name was Dutch rower Finn Florijn, but the Global Times still assailed CNN for “unprofessionally linking China’s first gold medal to Covid-19.”

The Global Times moved briskly along to complaining that CNN described the Tokyo Olympics as the “latest opportunity” for China to “showcase its national strength.” 

This came from a much more substantial CNN editorial that did make the point the Global Times objected to, but not in a negative or dismissive way. In fact, most of the editorial was celebratory of Chinese athletic achievements, especially since China won its first gold medal at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

CNN did chide Chinese nationalists for going a little overboard online, but it cited examples and went out of its way to state that the more extreme sentiment on China’s Weibo social media site – which the Communist Party strictly monitors and censors – “in no way represents mainstream public opinion.”

CNN also went out of its way to note that Chinese government censors have deleted some hyper-nationalist posts and accounts for “maliciously slandering, insulting, and attacking” athletes such as competitive shooter Yang Qian, who won a gold medal in the air rifle competition and set a new Olympic record but was shredded on Weibo because showed off her “impressive collection of Nike sneakers” back in December.

Nike sneakers later became problematic for Chinese nationalists because Nike dared to object to China’s use of slave labor for cotton harvesting in Xinjiang province, despite being accused of using factories employing slaves elsewhere in the country. Nike found itself targeted by a retaliatory boycott from China.

The Global Times left that detail out of the sputtering tirade it unleashed at CNN, which it portrayed as a “megaphone for Western ideology” that seeks to “denigrate and vilify China whenever it gets a chance.”

Another Global Times article over the weekend howled at media outlets like Reuters for supposedly choosing unflattering pictures of Chinese athletes – a complaint that sputtered out when amused Westerners noticed Chinese state media used some of the same photos.

Some of this comically overblown outrage could be just another flex of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “sharp power” muscles, an effort to reassure itself that Western media remains firmly under its thumb – or maybe the Party is testing its media-controlling abilities to prepare for the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, which could contain a good deal more unflattering coverage of China’s human rights abuses than anything emanating from the Tokyo Games.


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